C. M. (Clement Moore) Butler.

A sermon giving a historical account of St. John's church, Georgetown, D.C., delivered October 17, 1843; online

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Online LibraryC. M. (Clement Moore) ButlerA sermon giving a historical account of St. John's church, Georgetown, D.C., delivered October 17, 1843; → online text (page 1 of 4)
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Proceeds to be appropriated to the support of the Parish Schools connected with the Church.







" The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad." — Psalm cxxvi, 3.

This grateful exclamation of the Psahiiist, ray brethren, becomes
us on this occasion. After more than four months intermission of our
services, we are permitted, by the good providence of God, to meet
again as a congregation in our enlarged, improved, and beautified

Gratitude to God that he has enabled us to bring this good work
to completion, should fill our hearts. To the zeal of the vestry,
who, feeling the necessity of larger accommodations for the stability
and support of the Church and for the spiritual wants of the com-
munity, suggested the enlargement of the building to the congre-
gation — to the ready response of the congregation to the appeal of
the vestry, with a large, Christian, self-denying liberality worthy
of all commendation, manifested by a subscription for the object
which, taking into consideration the number and means of the con-
tributors, is seldom equalled in amount — to the skill of the gentle-
man* who furnished the plan for the enlargement of the building —
to the liberality and labor of the ladies of the congregation, who
procured and prepared the furniture of the pulpit, desk, and chan-
cel — to the unwearied and faithful diligence of the building com-
mittee,! and I may add, to the successful efforts of the builderj ta
render the edifice complete and commodious ; to these, under God,
do we owe it, that we are permitted to meet this morning, none of
our number lost by death, in our pleasant and beautified sanctuary ,,
hallowed by many sacred associations, and to realize "how amiable
are thy tabernacles, thou Lord of Hosts!" Brethren, if our love
be as large as our mercies, and our lives express in any good degree'
the gratitude which we owe, we shall be a devoted people !

•Capt. Geo. F. De La Roche, engineer and draughtsman in the Navy Department.
tMessrs. L. Thomas, A. H. Marbury, and John Waters.
JMatthias Dufi'ey, contractor.

A sketch of the history of this Church will show that the Lord
hath indeed done great things for us, whereof it becomes us to be

The records in possession of the Church of its past history, are
very few and imperfect. Such as remain have been collected with
great care, and rewritten with much labor by a member of the
vestry,* to whose zeal and industry I am indebted for fair copies of
every remaining paper having reference to the history of the Church,
which is in its possession. Instead of the connected and minute
detail which would be interesting if it were in my power to furnish
it, I can give but scattered and unconnected notices of the past his-
tory of the Church, gathered from those incomplete records which
remain, and from conversation with the Reverend Mr. Addison, for
many years the respected rector of the parish, and with some of the
older citizens of the place.

It is a pleasing circumstance with which to commence our remi-
niscences, that the first movement towards establishing an Episco-
pal Church in this place, was made by the Reverend Mr. Addison,
with the concurrence and assistance of the Reverend Dr. Balch,
a Presbyterian clergyman, whose memory is still warmly cherish-
ed in this community. The Reverend Mr. Addison was at that
time settled in the parish of Broad Creek, Prince George^s county,
opposite Alexandria. Hearing that there were some Episcopal
families in this place, he paid it a visit — was invited by Dr.
Balch to hold an Episcopal service in his church, and encouraged
by him to endeavor to organize an Episcopal congregation. This
incident is in perfect accordance with the character which this ven-
erated man left behind him for Christian kindness and liberality.
Mr. Addison continued to visit the place and to hold services occa-
sionally during the years 1794 and 1795. In the summer of 1796
the first effort, of which any record remains, was made to organize
a congregation and build a church. Whether a board of trustees
or a vestry was organized or not, does not appear. The only record
we possess of this effort is a list of subscribers, whose contributions
were to be applied "to building the walls and covering in a Protes-
tant Episcopal Church in Georgetown." This paper is dated Au-

•Mr. Joha H. Offley. Besides the papers here referred to, others, it is believed, are in
existence ; and it is much to be regretted, that the efiorts made to procure thein have failed,
as they are supposed to be most interesting.

gust, 1796, and contains 112 names, whose contributions, varying
from $1 to $100, amount, collectively, to $1,500. A lot for the
church, the one now occupied, was given by Col. Wm. Deakins.
The subscription list is preceded by the promise to pay the amount
subscribed, " for the purpose of building a Protestant Episcopal
Church in the lot in Beatty and Hawkins' addition to Georgetown."
From this expression it appears that this location was at that time
beyond the limits of the town proper. The memory of one of our
oldest citizens refers the chief agency in this movement to Mr.
Wm. Dorsey and Mr. Plater. From causes which do not appear,
but which may be conjectured to have been the difficulty of raising
a sufficient amount of money, the building which was commenced
at that time was carried up only to the first range of windows and
remained in this situation until the year 1803. During this period
the Reverend Mr. Addison held occasional services in this place,
though with little encouragement to his hopes of completing the

The next record of which we are in possession is of a meeting
of the citizens of Georgetown, in January, 1803, to take measures
for renewing the effi^rt to build an Episcopal Church. The minutes
of this meeting commence as follows : " At a meeting of a number
of the inhabitants of Georgetown, at Mr. Semmes' tavern, on Fri-
day evening, 28th January, pursuant to a notice in the Washington
Federalist, for the purpose of adopting regulations for building a
Protestant Episcopal Church, Walter S. Chandler, Charles Wor-
thington, and Walter Smith, were appointed a committee to inquire
into the situation of the building commenced for that purpose, and
to examine into the state of the accounts relative thereto, and to
judge of the propriety of completing the same, or to purchase
ground in any other part of the town, in their opinion most appro-
priate ; to solicit subscriptions therefor, and to make all such con-
tracts and agreements as may be requisite for earring into effect the
object proposed." The committee were instructed by resolution to
appoint a Treasurer, and to proceed to build a church as soon as
sufficient funds for the object could be obtained. There are recorded
the names of 154 subscribers, whose subscriptions amount to $2,500.
Among the subscribers is found the name of Thomas Jefferson.
The name of the Reverend Dr. Balch also appears as a subscriber.
Another record states the whole amount of the subscriptions to have

been $4,245. Consequently aid from other sources and contributors,
than those wlilch appear on the reinainin;^ list, must have been re-
ceived. That difficulties occurred in obtaining the amount required
is manifest from a letter addressed by the Rev. Mr. Rattoone, asso-
ciate rector of St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, on belialf of the trus-
tees of this Church, to the vestry of Trinity Church, New York.
The letter gives us an idea of the difficulties they had to encounter,
and the importance of the enterprize, not only in reference to the
spiritual interests of Georgetown, but of Washington also.

At that period there was no other Church at Washington than
Christ Church at the Navy Yard. A part of the letter is here given.

" To THE Rector and Vestry of Trinity Church, N. Y.

^' Gentlemen : Having perused a memorial from the Trustees of
the Church at Georgetown, at their request I am induced to certify
that the statement they have given is perfectly correct. The exer-
tions they have made, the difficulties they have encountered, and
the great importance of the Episcopal Church taking a primary and
superior lead, where at the seat of Government they are so divided,
are considerations which 1 have no doubt will have their due weight
when you shall take into view the facts they have stated. I should
regret that from the very small number of Episcopalians residing in
this place, and from the great sacrifices they have made to accom-
modate the poorer classes of the same society, they should not be
able to complete the Church, and form the most respectable estab-

'' As Trinity parish gave so liberally to the church established at
Alban)^, under the idea of that place being made the seat of the
State Government, I am induced to hope, as no evil can result from
the precedent, that they will extend their liberality likewise to the
permanent seat of the General Government. It may tend greatly
to restore order, to diffuse the principles of equal and just liberty,
and to establish, with honor and distinction, a house of public wor-
ship, where the doctrines, discipline, and worship of the Protestant
Episcopal Church may be taught in purity, and from this centre of
the Union, be widely diffused throughout the United States."

Whether this appeal to Trinity Church was successful, docs not
appear. The building was commenced, covered in, and sufficiently
linishcd for the celebration of public worship.

Early in 1804, the Trustees* advertised their want of a rector.
In March they were visited by the Rev. Mr. Sayrs, of Port Tobacco
parish. A meeting- of the pewholders was held in April, at which
he was elected rector, and the trustees directed to inform him of hib
election. He appears at once to have entered upon his labors. In
May, 1806, there was a call upon the pewholders for one year's
rent, or a sum equal thereto, to finish the church. It is this call
which leads me to infer, that at the first occupancy of the church,
it was not completed, but only made sufficiently comfortable to be
occupied in 1804 and 1805. The church appears to have been in
a prosperous state until the death of the rector in 1809. Few are
now living here who have distinct recollections of this excellent
man, but those few unite in paying- a sincere tribute to his memory.
A scholar, a pleasing speaker, a pious and humble minister, he was
well qualified for usefulness in the then important position which
he occupied. The character given of him in conversation by that
lamented and distinguished man, Francis S. Key, esq., by whom
Mr. Sayrs' epitaphf was written, impressed my mind with a deep
respect for his memory.

*It appears from one of the papers, that the following gentlemen composed a board of
trustees, viz: Wm. H. Dorsey, Chas. Worthington, Thos. Corcoran, Walter S. Chandler,
and Walter Smith. Thos. Corcoran and W. Smith acted as treasurers.


hu : eel :

Rector primus,


(quo, Christi Servus Fideliter ministravit;)

Sep : jac :

Ob: 6 Jan; A: D: mdcccix.

.^t XXXV.

Here once stood forth a Man, who from the world,
Though bright its aspect to his youthful eye,
Turned with afTection, ardent to his God,
And lived and died an humble minister
Of his benignant purposes to man.

Here lies he now — yet grieve not thou tor him,

READER! he trusted in that love where none •

Have ever vainly liusted — Rather let

His marble speak to (hee, and shouldst thou feel

The rising of a new and solemn thought,

VVak'd by this sacred place and sad memorial,

listen to its impulse! — 'tis divine —

And it shall guide thee to a life of joy,

A death of hope and endless bliss hereafter.


The marble which commemorates his fidelity, restored by the
pious care of the vestry of the church, to a position which enables
him being dead yet to speak, serves to remind us alike of the good
example of him whose ashes sleep beneath, and of him, his parish-
ioner and friend, whose afiectionate and devoted spirit yet lives in
the epitaph, whose words fall on the ear and on the heart with so
sweet and solemn cadence ! That marble also serves to preach to
the preacher, as he stands in this place, an earnest exhortation,
which seems to issue from the tomb, " Whatsoever thy hand findeth
to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor know-
ledge nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest!" Oh! may all who
speak in this place, reminded by that silent monitor, speak as in
view of the hour of death, and of the day of judgment. " Storied
urn and animated bust" may bear flattering memorials of the worth,
and fame, and honor of the children of the world, but when truth
guides the hand that writes the epitaph, no higher eulogy can be
traced over the resting place of man, than this, that

" He lived and died an humble minister
" Of God's benignant purposes to man."

*In January, 1809, the Rev. Walter Addison was called to, and
accepted, the rectorship of this church. At that time the church
was as largely attended from Washington as from Georgetown,
there being still no other church at Washington but Christ Church
at the Navy Yard.

The memories of some of our older citizens recall the crowded
attendance upon the services of this church at that period. No
other records are possessed than those of the names of the vestry,
and of the ordinary business transactions of that body, until the year
1811. That the church was in a most prosperous condition at that
period, at least in reference to its external affairs, appears from a
resolution of the vestry dated January 11, 181 l.f

On motion, resolved, " That it is expedient to enlarge the church,
and that a committee be appointed to solicit subscriptions, and that
Mr. Gozter be requested to furnish a plan for the said addition to
be built, together with his estimate of the probable cost thereof."

•Vestry in 1807— Chs. Worthington, W. Bowie, T. Corcoran, J. Mason, T. Plater, B.
Mackall, P. B. Key, and Wm. Stewart.

fVestry alluded to wereT. Corcoran, treasurer; J. Abbot, secretary; T. Peter, J. Gozler,
L. H. Johns, R. Beverley, T. Hyde, F. S. Key, C. Smith, and J. Kennedy, wardens.

The plan failed, as we have been informed, from the double diffi-
culty of raising the means, and of making the pewholders satisfied
with holding the same pews, relatively more distant from the pulpit
than before, at the same valuation. The incident shows how, even
in a Christian congregation, little and selfish considerations some-
times oppose themselves to, and prevent great and permanent
measures of improvement. We cannot but contrast that unsuccess-
ful effort for enlargement, with the one in whose success we rejoice
to-day, using the language of David, to express our joyful gratitude,
" The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad."

At that time the church was thronged to an overflow, with all who
were most elevated in station and in wealth from the Capital ; the
pews in the gallery were rented at high rates, and to persons of
great respectability ; the street before the door of the church was
filled with glittering vehicles, and liveried servants; and yet be-
cause means could not be raised for the enlargement, and a misera-
ble selfishness could not be made to relinquish any thing for the
sake of extending the privileges of God's house, the enterprize was
abandoned. Now, with a much smaller and humbler congregation,
on whom heavy burdens have rested ever since the re-opening of
the church, not largely blessed, or shall we say cursed, with this
world's wealth, but as their deeds have shown, rich in faith, with
but little aid from without the congregation, the means for the en-
largement of the church have been raised, and the work has not
been prevented by the obtrusion of selfish and secondary consider-
ations, and to-day we rejoice in its completion. The contrast strik-
ingly teaches us to whom we are, and are not, to look for the ex-
tension of Christ's kingdom, and the honor of his name. I should
do violence to my feelings, if I did not here express my sense of
the noble and Christian liberality of the little flock among whom
it is my happiness to minister. Looking above the human instru-
ments, to Him who put it in their hearts to do honor to his name,
to Him alone would I give the glory, and say in the grateful lan-
guage of the Psalmist —

" The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad."

From this period until the year* 1817, the church continued in

*Vestry in 1817— F. S. Key, T. Hyde, L. H. Johns, W. Bowie, C. Worthington, C.
Smith, T. Corcoran, and J. Abbot; and J. Howe and T. G. Waters, wardens. At a meet-
ing ol the vestry, Messrs. Bowie, Corcoran, and Abbot, were appointed a committee " to
adopt such measures as they may deem proper to enlarge the church."


operation with but a moderate measure of temporal or spiiitual pros-
perity. It appears from a resolution of the vestry, that the Rev'd
Mr. Addison tendered his resignation of the parish, and that this
resignation was accepted and acted upon by the vestry.

The resolution was in these words, "Resolved, that a rector of
St. John's Church be appointed on Wednesday, 30th April, 1817>
to supply the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of the Rev'd
Walter Addison." Mr. Addison's resignation however did not take
effect, and the vestry furnished him with an assistant. At a meet-
ing of the vestry. May 13, 1817, we find this resolution, " Resolved,
that the Rev'd Ruel Keith be appointed the assistant minister of
this church for one year." On the 26th of April, 1818, there is
again a record, "that the Rev. Mr. Addison was unanimously ap-
pointed rector of this church." At this time, the congregation of
Christ Church was organized, and the Rev. Mr. Keith chosen rector
of the church. From this period St. John's Church continued in
a feeble and declining condition. In 1821, the Rev. Mr. Addison
resigned the rectorship of the church, under the conviction that his
usefulness had been much diminished, and that the parish might
prosper better in other hands. He then took charge of Rock Creek
Church and Addison Chapel, near Bladensburgh, and was succeeded
in the rectorship of St. John's by the Rev. Stephen S. Tyng. Mr.
Tyng remained in the parish from April, 1821, to April, 1823.
There were but 11 families connected with the church when he as-
sumed the charge of it, and when he left, the number had increased
to 33. Mr. Tyng resigned the parish in 1823, and removed to
Queen's parish, Anne Arundel county, Maryland. Mr. Addison was
recalled in 1823, and continued the settled minister of the parish
till 1827. During this period he was much afflicted with weakness
of the eyes, which in the end became perfect blindness. Unable
under this affliction, to continue his services effectively, he resigned
the charge again in 1827. He was succeeded by the Reverend Mr.
James, who had charge of the church, it is believed, between one
and two years. Mr. James was succeeded by the Rev. Sutherland
Douglass, who had charge of the parish about the same length of
time. After the church had ceased to have a settled rector, the
Rev. Mr. Addison, though perfectly blind, continued to hold an oc-
casional service in the church till 1831, when it was finally aban-

11 •

doned.* Abandoned, did I say 1 If this had been all, it would have
been comparatively well. Had it remained only open and desertedj
so as not inappropriately to have borne the title of '' The Swallow
Barn," by which name I hear it was often called, even in such a
deserted and neglected state, it would not have been altogether
divested of sacred associations. As the pious member of the church
passed by the desolated house of God, where himself or his fathers
worshipped, he might then have applied to it, with something of
mournfulness, the plaintive language of the Psalmist, " The sparrow
hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest, where she may lay
her young, even thy altars and thy tabernacles, Lord of hosts,
my King and my God!" But a feeling of holy indignation, or of
conscious shame, must, I think, have filled his heart, when he saw
it given up as the workshop of a sculptor! Yes, in this Christian
community, a Christian temple was allowed to undergo the most
shameful desecration, and they who had worshipped under its roof,
and gathered about its sacred board, or in it been dedicated to God
by baptism, passed it by, and saw the statues of heathen gods and
goddesses as a sign at its portico, and heard the chisellings of the
workmen, where the voice of prayer and praise was wont for years
to rise,t and they suffered it to be so ! I know not on whose heads
the censure falls, but I should be unfaithful to my duty as an an-
nalist, and a minister of Christ, if I did not designate such gross
indifference to God's house as inexcusable and disgraceful. If,
which God in his mercy avert, these walls should ever again be
deserted and left without worshippers, may there be at least such a
degree of godly jealousy for the honor of God's house left among
you, brethren, who may linger last about its forsaken altar, as will
lead you to level the edifice to the dust, rather than that it should
again be subjected to such wanton desecration !

In the rapid sketch of the history of this Church, up to the period
of its abandonment in 1831, names have been mentioned as identified
with its fortunes which, no doubt, have called up many associations
in the minds of some of those who hear me. Of the laity who
were active in its organization, few remain among us. Of the cler-

•Veatry at this time — Dr. Chs. Worthington, Gen. John Mason, Messrs. G. B. Magruder,
Thos. Peter, John Gozler, Clem't Cox, Chs. G. Wilcox, Win. Stewart, Wm. Good, and
Richard Davis, wardens ; and F. Lowndes, register.

fThe building was at this time occupied as a studio by Mr- Pettrich, the sculptor,


gyinen who have been connected with this Church, some rem?.^'
to this present, but others are fallen asleep. We have already
spoken of him whose ashes sleep beneath this edifice. The name
of the lamented Dr. Keith will call up fresher recollections. The
impression stamped by that earnest and gifted man on this com-
munity will not soon be effaced. Alas! that the light which was
so bright in its dawning and meridian, should have been so clouded
at its setting. But let us remember that the sun, whose parting
rays are so obstructed that they do not meet the eye, is, in itself,
no less radiant, and departs in darkness from one horizon, to shine
with more than its morning and meridian brightness in other climes.
The Rev. Mr. Tyng is occupying a position of great responsibility,
and exercising a ministry of eminent usefulness, in the city of
Philadelphia. The Rev. Mr. James was successively an assistant
of Bishop White, in Christ Church, and his successor in the rector-
ship. He died soon after Bishop White, deeply regretted, not only
by his congregation, but by the Church at large. The Rev. Suther-
land Douglass breathed forth his ardent and zealous spirit in a for-
eign land, where he had gone with the hope of restoration to health,
*' by strangers honored, and by strangers mourned." The vener-
able Mr. Addison is still living. Afflicted for many years with
blindness, this truly humble and pious man has exhibited a meek
and patient spirit, which gives evidence that the eye of his soul is
open, and is fixed on Christ. " Patient waiting for Christ," are
words which well describe his condition. Looking upon the ve-
nerable man, with his hoary head and placid countenance, which
bears the marks of chastening, but not of tumult or discontent, his
presence seemed to breathe forth the eloquent but unrepining com-
plaint of the blind bard of Paradise :
" Not to me returns

Day, nor the sweet approach of even or mom,

Or sight of vernal bloom or summer rose,

1 3 4

Online LibraryC. M. (Clement Moore) ButlerA sermon giving a historical account of St. John's church, Georgetown, D.C., delivered October 17, 1843; → online text (page 1 of 4)